Australian Family History

The majority of Australians have family roots in the UK, and it is always interesting to trace them back from hot southern sun to rainy fileds in Britain where their ancestors may have toiled since before the Norman Conquest.   To get an idea of the kind of things that can be discovered, take a look at the excerpts from an Australian Family Tree below.   Although not the complete Family Story, it will give you an idea of what can be achieved.  I hope you enjoy the story.

The Godding Family From England to Australia

The research of the name Godding itself showed that it is derived from an Old English name “Goding” meaning Goda’s child.   The original “Goding” spelling of the name coincides with the early family distribution around the Gloucestershire/Somerset borders.   Given that the name is not associated with a particular profession or craft, and we discovered through research that the family worked the land for many generations at the humblest level of society in future centuries, we can be confident that in the 11th  Century we would have found Goding (Goda’s son) also working the land but as a serf for the lord of the Manor.    

From the Norman Conquest to the 14th century Goding and his descendants would have toiled the land never leaving ploughtheir home Parish except for the occasional Market Day or Saints Day celebration.   Even during the 14th century with the upheavals of the Black Death which wiped out nearly half the population of England, and the subsequent Peasants’ Revolt which almost overthrew the king in London, made little difference to the lives of the Godings.   Perhaps they gained a little more mobility, and slightly better wages due to the shortage of able bodied workers due to the plague, but it is unlikely that they moved more than a few miles from their home Parishes, given that they were still there some centuries later.   One thing is sure, this part of the family actually survived the Plague and lived to pass on their genes to future generations.

Centuries passed, Civil Wars came and went, as did Kings Queens, Catholicism, and a Cromwellian Republic, but still the Godings toiled in the earth for the Lord of their Manor, scraping a living and living long enough to produce the next generation.   Eventually we find them in the 1700s having gained an extra “d” in their name, courtesy of the local Vicar’s whim, given that most of his flock were unable to read and write, he decided on the spelling of their names, and these became set, and so we find William Godding born in 1793 in the Gloucestershire market town of Thornbury.  

This was the age of enclosures, landowners now started to turn their land back to cereal cultivation, which required more man power.   In order to meet the higher demand for grain crops the big landowners would seek permissions from Parliament to carry out “Enclosures”, not just the taking of uncultivated waste land, but also land that was communally farmed by the agricultural population for each person to keep a cow, or for raising of vegetable crops.   The peasant farmers who previously had rights to this land,   lost their opportunity to make a living from farming, so, having robbed them of their livelihood, the Lord would take them on as paid labourers to work the land they previously had rights over.   The Lord would also decide what he would pay them.   If they didn’t like the wages, they could always decide not to work for the Lord, in which case they would loose their cottage, would have to leave the village to look for work elsewhere as they would not be entitled to poor relief from the Parish, or, of course they could choose to starve to death in a ditch.     The landowners had worked out how to control their local populations via wages and rents rather than through the sword and gibbet.   In the words of one MP who railed against the plight of the rural poor;

“The poor in these Parishes may say; Parliament may be tender of property; all I know is I had a cow, and an act of Parliament has taken it from me.”

So this is how William Godding came to be working for wages on local farms dependant on large tenant farmers and the Lord of the Manor, rather than owning a small holding of his own.  Then surprisingly when in his twenties around 1816 William takes the bold step of moving, not just from his home town of Thornbury, but out of the County of Gloucestershire to Keynsham in Somerset where he meets and marries a local girl called Isabella.   Such a move was a major decision for an unskilled Agricultural Labourer, so we needed to see if we could find the cause of it. 

Trouble at Thornbury 


The enclosure acts had caused resentment between the Lords who took the land and the Peasants who lost it.   But the lords had the law on their side and penalties could be harsh for Agricultural Labourers who weren’t prepared to cow tail to the local Lords.

To take back some of their lost assets, and as an act of defiance local people would poach animals for the pot from the Lords’ lands, which was illegal and violently resented by the Gentry.   The penalties were drastic, one member of the Godding family being transported in a prison ship to Australia for offences in 1810.    

At Thornbury in 1815, a man called Thomas Till had been legally killed on the Estate of Lord Ducie by a Spring Gun,   a firearm booby trap left in the woods by game keepers,   Thomas Till had tripped one such wire and been shot and killed by the device when out looking for a rabbit for the pot. This legally sanctioned killing heightened tensions between the common people and the Gentry in Thornbury which would eventually spilled over into an act of defiance.    

On a cold and frosty moonlit night on 18th January 1816 a group of young labourers gathered at a house in Thornbury, with blacked faces to aid camouflage and avoid recognition, they set out on an act of civil disobedience to poach on the lands of Colonel Berkeley at Berkeley Castle.   Undoubtedly this was a political move, rather than a pure poaching for the pot exercise, as the leaders of the participants were from middleclass backgrounds, indeed one of the organisers was a lawyer, and guns had been provided, something no peasant would have owned.

However by the time they reached the Berkeley Estate word had leaked, and ten gamekeepers lay in ambush for them.   The poachers were challenged by the keepers, and realising that they had been betrayed, decided to make a fight of it, at least some among them were ex-soldiers, and they formed up in a double line, advanced on the keepers and   fired a volley killing one keeper, William Ingram, instantly and wounding several others. It then seems that after some confused fighting the poachers made their escape.thornburycropbuff

Over the following weeks Two of the group lost their nerve, gave themselves up and turned King’s Evidence in return for a dropping of charges, the less well off were apprehended over the following weeks, their fates were mixed; two were hanged for the murder of Ingram, nine were transported to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) for life, and probably another eight (who had the money and connections to facilitate it) fled to America, Ireland, and the Caribbean. No doubt there were many other men involved in the fight that night, but not important enough to warrant a prolonged pursuit.  Adding up the facts and timing of William Godding’s move, it does look like he may well have decided to flee as a result the Thornbury Poacher’s Battle.  

It seems that fleeing one county away was enough as William and Isabella set up home in Keynsham and raise a family there.

We followed William and his family through the archives decade upon decade from 1841, we find them in Keynsham with six of their children, five sons and a daughter, William eventually gives   up work on the land when in his fifties to work as a Labourer on the newly arrived Railway, his daughter Elizabeth found work as a domestic servant at the tender age of fourteen with a Railway Contractor, times were hard, the children left home and William continues to work as a labourer into his eighties after the death of his wife.williamcensusbuff

Vines Godding and the move to Australia


Vines was often misrepresented as “Fines” due to his West Country accent, and the name would stick.   The son of William and Isabella Godding born in Keynsham Somerset. Like his father and brothers he was a Labourer at a time in England when life was very tough for the working man and his family.   He had married Sophia Palmer in 1854, and by 1861 they were living in a working class area of Bristol with three children under of five years and under, so life was   hard for them with five mouths to feed on a labourer’s income.

During the middle years of the nineteenth century in England there was a big drive to “assist” paupers and the working poor to emigrate to Australia, some times this was a wholely voluntary process, and sometimes there was something close to coercion involved.   In the case of Vines, given how adventurous the family was prepared to be in order to find work; it seems likely that a mixture of poverty and daring fuelled their move.  

What we do know is that their move was “assisted” i.e. the costs were   covered by a local emigration scheme.     We found that they left in 1862 aboard the ship the Lady Milton.   With Vines and Sophia were their daughters Elizabeth five and Emily three, plus their one year old son Charles. They must have been fairly desperate, because Sophia was also pregnant when they undertook the trip, and gave birth during the voyage to Louisa.     But times could be hard in Australia as well, and both Bessy and Louisa died in 1868, with Elizabeth following in 1888.   The rest of the children survived to adulthood. Sophia lived till 1896, and Vines till 1901, they both lived out their lives in Australia.

Charles James Godding    

charlesjamesgodding copybuff

Times may have been hard, but with Imperial Wars to fight Vines’ eldest son Charles James, joined the Army as a Gunner in the Artillery on 26th January 1881, he was listed as a Baptist, the first confirmation we have of the Godding family’s religious beliefs. By 3rd of March 1885 he was shipped out to the Sudan during the war with the Mahdi, and General Gordan’s siege at Khartoum. The force left Sydney amid much fanfare, generated in part by the holiday declared to allow the public to bid farewell to the troops; the send-off was described as the most festive occasion in the colony’s history.


The NSW contingent arrived and anchored at Sudan’s Red Sea port Suakin on 29th March 1885, and were attached to a brigade composed of Scots, Grenadier and Coldstream Guards. Shortly after their arrival they marched as part of a large “square” formation – on this occasion made up of 10,000 men – for Tamai, a village some 30 kilometres inland. Although the march was marked only by minor skirmishing, the men saw something of the reality of war as they halted among the dead from a battle which had taken place eleven days before. Further minor skirmishing took place on the next day’s march, but the Australians, now at the rear of the square, sustained only three casualties, none fatal. The infantry reached Tamai, burned whatever huts were standing and returned to Suakin.

After Tamai, the NSW contingent worked on the railway line which was being laid across the desert to the Nile.     Far from the excitement they had imagined, the Australians suffered mostly from the enforced idleness of guard duties. When a camel corps was raised, fifty men volunteered immediately. On 6 May they rode on a reconnaissance to Takdul, 28 kilometres from Suakin, again hoping for an encounter with the Sudanese, but the only action that day involved two newspaper correspondents who had accompanied the patrol before leaving the cameleers to file their stories in Suakin. They soon found themselves surrounded by enemy forces, and one was wounded as they fled. The camel corps made only one more sortie – on 15 May, to bury the bodies of men killed in fighting the previous March.

The artillery saw even less action than the infantry. They were posted to Handoub where, having no enemy close enough to engage, they drilled for a month. On 15 May they rejoined the camp at Suakin. Not having participated in any battles, Australian casualties were few: those who died fell to disease rather than enemy action.   By May 1885 the British government had decided to abandon the campaign and left only a garrison in Suakin. The Australian contingent sailed for home on 17 May 1885 arriving in Sydney on 19 June. They were expecting to land at Port Jackson and were surprised to disembark at the quarantine station on North Head near Manly as a precaution against disease. One man died of typhoid there before the contingent was released.

Five days after their arrival in Sydney the contingent, dressed in their khaki uniforms, marched through the city to a reception at Victoria Barracks where they stood in pouring rain as a number of public figures, including the Governor, the Premier, and Colonel Richardson the commandant of the contingent, gave speeches. It was generally agreed at the time that, no matter how small the military significance of the Australian contribution to the adventure, it marked an important stage in the development of colonial self-confidence and was proof of the enduring link with Britain.

The Grandsons of Vines Godding

 The family having seen action in the Sudan, their then settled down to civilian life until the next generation were called upon to serve the Empire in The Great War.


Clarence Sydney Godding 1898 – 1917

ClarenceSidneyGodding copybuff

Clarence was working as a Farm hand on a Dairy Farm, before joining the 19th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1916 as a Private, and had been living with his parents.   On his shipping papers his religion is stated as C of E, but his brother was a Baptist, perhaps he didn’t consider it an important detail.  In any case he was shipped out probably initially to Egypt where the Battalion was reorganised and new recruits were trained, before being shipped to France. The first major action for the Battalion was Pozieres, where the German shelling was the most intense ever experienced by the AIF during the war and was accompanied by nearly continuous German counter attacks to recover their vital ground.   In this battle 19th Battalion created a record by holding its sector for a period of 12 days. The most notable action that Clarence would have taken part in was the capture and defence of the notorious ‘Maze’ defence system at Flers on 14th November 1916. Clarence and his mates captured and held a salient deep within the German Lines, but their support battalions failed to reach their objectives on the flanks of the 19th, and so the 18 year old Clarence and his unit were cut off deep inside the German lines.

For two days and nights Clarence held his position against counter attacks and intense shelling, almost running out ofcartoondiggerbuff ammunition Charles and his mates picked up the rifles and ammo of the Germans they had killed and used them, so that their own ammunition could be saved for their Lewis machine guns to stop the German Infantry counter attacks. Of the 451 all ranks who went into the attack, 381 became casualties.

Clarence survived, and his next big battle was at Lagincourt in 1917 where his battalion was involved in the follow-up of German forces after their retreat to the Hindenburg Line.   The Germans counter attacked to try to halt their pursuit by the Australians, and Clarence was faced with an attack by a German force that outnumbered them five to one, they made their stand at Lagincourt and managed to defeat the German advance.  

On the 3rd of May 1917 Clarence and his friends were thrown into “The Blood Tub” as the second battle of Bullecourt would be called by the Aussies.   General Gough had sent his troops to assault the fortress village of Bullecourt using the new wonder ‘tank’ and the Anzacs, it ended in disaster.   This was the first battle of Bullecourt, on the 3rd of May Gough launched a second attack on Bullecourt which dominated the British action on the Western Front for two weeks, and was the battle that Clarence fought in.     It was the excessive brutality and ferocity of the hand-to-hand fighting that earned Bullecourt the name ‘The Blood Tub’.

At a quarter to four in the morning of 3rd of May 1917 two Australian and one British Brigade went over the top to attack Bullecourt.   The Australians penetrated the German line but met determined opposition which stop the force surrounding and cutting off the Germans.   It was during this fighting on the first day of the battle in fierce hand to hand combat in the German trenches that Clarence, at the tender age of nineteen was killed.     By the end of the battle the village was held by the Allies; the locality turned out to be of little or no strategic importance, and cost the Australians 7,482 in dead and wounded.

Below you have the Roll of Honour application made out by Charles James Godding, Clarence’s father, to have his son’s name added to the memorial and list.   It is a very sad document filled out by a proud but grieving father, the careful but inexpert nature of the writing in a time of grief, contrasts starkly with the bureaucratic and clinical nature of the form; it highlights the gulf in attitude between a statistic and a young man’s life.  

Sadly Clarence’s body was never found, but he did not return from the battle, and he was not taken prisonner, so it was beyond doubt that   he was   killed in action alongside hundreds of others from his Battalion, and by   July 1918 his status was changed from missing to killed in action.   To the credit of the Australian authorities, they were still investigating right up till October 1919, when they checked to see if he was among Australian prisoners of war released in Germany at the end of the war, but there was no trace of him.   All of this was recorded in the archives that we researched.



The Poppy marks the spot where his name is engraved on the Australian National War Memorial in Sydney.  

Although it is not known what happened to his body, he is remembered on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France.



Fines Henry Godding 1896 – 1918


 Fines had worked as a labourer until 26th February 1915, aged 19, Fines joined the Australian Imperial Force as a Private in the Infantry.  He shipped out with the 17th Battalion on the troop ship Themistocles in May 1915. He trained in Egypt from June until mid-August 1915, and on 20 August landed at ANZAC Cove.

At Gallipoli Fines fought in the last action of the August Offensive; the attack on Hill 60, before settling into defensive routine in the trenches. For the rest of his time in Turkey Fines was part of the garrison of Quinn’s Post, one of the most contested positions along the entire ANZAC front.   Eventually he was evacuated from Gallipoli in December 1915.

After further training in Egypt, Fines   was sent to France, landing on 22 March 1916.   He took part in his first major battle at Pozières between 25 July and 5 August.   After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium, he was sent back into France again in October, where he spent the freezing winter of 1916-17 rotating in and out of trenches in the Somme Valley but was spared from attacking across the quagmire the Somme.   It was during this winter that his battalion earned the nickname “the Whale Oil Guards” after their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Oswald Croshaw, ordered the troops to polish their helmets with the whale oil that had been issued to them as a foot rub to prevent Trench Foot.  Trench Foot is caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp and cold, it can occur with only twelve hours of exposure, the first signs are numbness in the feet followed by a change in color to red or blue. As the condition worsens, the feet swell, followed by blisters open sores which lead to fungal infections. If not treated it results in gangrene and requires amputation of the foot. Unfortunately for Fines, Croshaw considered a smart turn out on parade more important than his mens’   health.   They were Lions lead by Donkeys.

In 1917 Fines took part in the pursuit of German forces after their retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and fought in the battle of Lagincourt where a counter stroke by a German force, almost four times as strong, was defeated. Fate then bequeathed that he would fight in the blood bowl at the second battle of Bullecourt (3-4 May), he would have known that Clarence his brother was fighting in the same battle, and no doubt would have had that on his mind during the action.   At the end of the Battle, he heard that his brother was missing, and tried desperately to find out what had happened to him sending letters to the authorities to try to find out as the excerpt   below show.

  “…his name was in the list of missing last evening, and now it has upset me a great deal.   I don’t know how my parents at home will take it when they hear the news, it will be a great blow to them, but still we must of hope for the best.   I am giving you his address and if you hear anything different please communicate with me as soon as possible.”

This letter was written from Perham Down, Andover, which was a Convalescent Depot. These were half way houses for casualties returning to the front – men who no longer required hospitalisation but were not yet fit to rejoin their units.  Fines had also been wounded at Bullecourt, seriously enough to have been shipped back to England for treatment.  At the end of his treatment in July 1917 he wrote another letter to make sure the Department of Wounded and Missing Soldiers would know where to contact him should they get news, as he had been temporarily moved out of the front lines. On the 3rd of September he was still trying to find out the fate of his brother, writing again to the authorities on his return to his battalion.  Not knowing his brother’s fate he was shipped back to Belgium, where he fought at the battles of the Menin Road 20th – 22nd September, and Poelcappelle 9th – 10th October. In October his father wrote to the authorities about his missing son Clarence, but also mentioned   poignant words about Fines, pleading with the authroities to let his shell shocked son come home, we discovered these heart rending letters in the archives:


The father didn’t get his wish, instead, Fines was shipped out for another winter of trench duty. Fines then took part in   stopping   the German Spring Offensive of 1918. With this last desperate offensive defeated, the Allied armies turned to the offensive.   But Fines found himself   back in hospital in England. This time he had Trench Fever, a disease spread by body lice in the unhygenic environment of the trenches. Fines was treated in the hospial for just over three weeks, then given two weeks furlough before being shipped back to the front line. 

Once back in the lines, Fines received the official   letter from the authorities concerning his brother, his worst fears were realised.  We can only guess at the pain he carried in his heart as he fought in the battles that pushed the German Army ever closer to defeat: Amiens on 8 August, the legendary attack on Mont St Quentin on 31st August. Then came the last major battle fought by his Battalion which started on 29th September 1918. Two Australian Divisions in co-operation with American forces, attacked the formidable German defences along the St Quentin Canal, and on to the Hindenburg Line. 

Unlike his brother Clarence, Fines fate was well documented by his comrades, and we were able to discover in our research   many tetimonials from them describing what they saw:   Private Quantrill went over the top with him at 06.10 on the morning of 30th September 1918 and saw him fall; Sergeant Callaghan saw him lying dead in a trench with machine gun wounds; Private Simmons wrapped his body for burial and noted that he had been hit in the neck and head by machine gun bullets; Private Green carried his body back for burial after Simmons had wrapped it; and   Sergeant Wilkinson oversaw Fines’s burial at Tincourt Cemetary.   The actions of his friends who had cared for him and provided some dignity after death must have given some comfort to his grieving parents. 


A number of these men were obviously hisfinesmemorialbuff friends, and refer to him as Merry Godding (the strong Australian accent being mishearing “Merry”  as “Mary” by the officer typing one of the letters) because of  his happy disposition.  He was 21 years old carrried the grief of his younger brother’s death, had been wounded and   sufferred Trench Fever from body lice, he   fought in some of the bloodiest battles of WW1, but despite all of this he still managed to lift the spirits of his comrades.   What greater praise could a man be given?  

James Keith Godding 1905 – 1943


James Keith survived the First World War because he was too young to join up.   In 1920 he married Catherine Zada Thomson at Woolahra, and they had a daughter named after her mother, Catherine Zada Godding. 

But when World War Two broke out he followed the path of his elder brothers and father, and volunteered for the Australian Army, and after a brief initial spell in the infantry James joined the   artillery as his father had done a generation before him.   It also   looks like he either gave a false birth date on when he joined to make himself look younger.jameskeithmemorialbuff

But tradgedy would stalk the Godding boys again, but James did not succome to the enemy, he sadly died whilst a serving soldier od Tuberculosis, and was cremated in Sidney, attended by his parents and his wife.   The poppy in the picture shows the location of his name on the Australian National Memorial.


Roy William Godding


Roy Wiliam   born in Newton NSW Australia, the son of Thomas Sydney Godding, and the grandson of Vines Godding.   The records we found showed that he was 5ft 8ins tall had dark hair a dark complexion, no doubt tanned from his work shearing in the tropics, and had grey eyes.   He had a 34 inch Chest and weighed just over 1“Goding” stone, so he was quite heavy for his height, but wasn’t particularly broad in the chest.

He was a sheep shearer by occupation, and was working in Queensland when he joined the Australian Imperial Force.   He was shipped out as a member of the 15th Battalionon HMAT Wandilla on 31st January 1916 from Brisbane.

He joined the regiment in Egypt where it had been sent after leaving Gallipoli.   the records show that Roy proved to be a bit of a tearaway, finding himself in hospital on two separate occasions   for treatment for the result   of some “leisure activities” in Cairo, and he subsequently turns up in Rollestone, Wiltshire, UK in September 1916, where he goes AWL (Absent Without Leave), and is given 16 days confinement to Camp, and docked   16 days pay.

His battalion had been in France and had fought in the battle of Pozières in August 1916, so it was possible that he was wounded and shipped back to England.

By November 1916 he is shipped back to France, and must have started showing his worth as by April 1917 he is promoted to Lance Corporal. This probably happened at the first Battle of Bullecourt, the prelude to the Battle in which his cousins fought.   Roy’s battalion suffered heavy losses at Bullecourt when the brigade attacked strong German positions without the promised tank support. During July Roy spent another three weeks in hospital, probably through wounds.   Roy   spent much of the remainder of 1917 in Belgium, advancing to the Hindenburg Line, where again he no doubt proved himself being promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant.   His greatest moment came in September 1917 in the battle of Polygon Wood, in the larger battle of Passchendale.

The attack on Polygon Wood was the 5th Division’s first major battle since it was savaged at the disastrous attack at Fromelles in July 1916 (although parts of the Division had been present at Bullecourt in April 1917). It would attack with the Australian 4th Division on its left and five British Divisions also taking part.

The troops advanced in the early hours of September 26, close behind a creeping artillery barrage. The barrage was, in the words of C. E. W. Bean, Australia’s Official War Historian, “the most perfect that ever protected Australian troops”. Under the protection of this barrage, the Australians advanced in several stages. The concrete pillboxes were manned by German machine gun teams who resisted fiercely and almost all had to be captured by acts of individual bravery. The Australians captured the pillboxes in what later became the classic style: a Lewis gun would fire on the pillbox, supported by fire from rifle grenades, while an assault team would manoeuvre around to the back of the pillbox, rather than attacking it head on. The technique worked effectively in most cases, but attacking pillboxes was never an easy task and casualties were high.

It was during this engagement that Roy won The Military Medal.   The Military Medal was a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British and Commonwealth Armies, below Officer rank, for bravery in battle on land.   The medal was established on 25th March 1916. It was the other rank’s equivalent to the Military Cross.

The official records said:

“During the attack near Zokkebake on 26th September 1917 he displayed splendid courage and gallantry in leading his men against a party of the enemy who were holding up the advance.

During the consolidation of the captured position he dispalyed great coolness and skill in rallying his men and beating off a counter attack.

During a very heavy bombardment he inspired great confidence in those around him by his coloness and disregard for danger.” 

He survived the war and returned to Australia in 1918 and was demobilised in 1919.

This is just an extract from what was discovered during the research, which also included the the parts of the family that stayed in England, and contained details of births, Deaths, and Marriages, as well as addresses and occupations.  If you are interested in having your own family tree researched you can find more details here; Time Detectives Services.

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